Carlos Drummond de Andrade, chronicler

Image: Ana Maria Pacheco (Jornal de Resenhas)
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By FLORA SÜSSEKIND*

It is a work in which marks linked both to work as a chronicler and to poetic exercise are intertwined. And a biphonic character: the poet-chronicler.

To better understand the poet Drummund, there is a hint suggested in a beautiful poetic series, “Canções de alinhavo”, included in Body (1984): “Stéphane Mallarmé has exhausted the cup of the unknowable. / Nothing is left for us but everyday life / which demeans, depresses.” A clue that partly overlaps with another, enunciated in “Letter to Stalingrad”, by The People's Rose: "Poetry fled from books, now it's in the newspapers". It is as if the poet were emphasizing, in these passages, his preferred path – as poet-chronicler –, at a time when the role of the key character of modern poetry seemed to fall to the figure of the poet-critic.

It is as if Drummond, in the midst of systematic work with part of the resources of this poetry, with the circumstantial, the fact and the prose effects, was forced to look at the self-reflective twists of contemporary literature and criticism with a certain distrust, discarding them in favor of greater complicity with the reader. And, in this sense, his work as a newspaper columnist was a fundamental piece in the formation of this pact of non-estrangement, of a way of seeing things, everyday life, similar to that of any potential reader of the Journal of Mines, from People's Tribune, Tomorrow. Correio da Manhã or Newspapers in Brazil, newspapers where he worked regularly from the 20s until 1984, when he abandoned his job as columnist.

“Poor urban chronicler, your affairs reek of complaints and protests, and you will end up next to the column of letters from consumers, annoyed by the poor quality of appliances, which break down a week after they are installed, or do not even work...”, he said in October 1979 in an article that emphasized precisely this possible proximity between chronicler and reader, chronicles and letters of complaint. And this link between chronicler and reader seems to unfold into another, between the journalistic and the poetic, in a constant coming and going, which Luiz Costa Lima draws attention to in lyre and anti-lyre: “The domain of colloquialism in Drummond is linked to a modality of perception of reality; poetry is despiritualized by abandoning sacred themes – corroded from the beginning by irony – in order to focus on what is trivial: the legs on the tram, the comic disasters that love provokes, cachaça, cabaret, stones arranged halfway” . The despiritualization that invades Drummond's poetry precisely because it sometimes seems to have been written with the Drummond-chronicler's pen. Just as, in the newspaper, the Drummond-poet sometimes invaded the space of the chronicle and gave way to 'non-news', to verse, to fiction.

A poet with the eyes of a columnist, a columnist with the traits of a poet, his dual role makes it difficult to draw a cohesive intellectual profile. It would not be enough, however, to say that he oscillated between poetry and chronicle. Or that he was a poet who was also a chronicler. It is, rather, a work in which marks linked both to work as a chronicler and to the poetic exercise are intertwined. And a biphonic character: the poet-chronicler. Duplicity opposed to that which unites the figures of the poet and the critic in modernity and able to explain, in a way, the unanimity that was created around the name of Drummond as the greatest Brazilian poet.

Both the chronicler-poet and the critic-poet, in their own way, respond to the loss of a common language, of univocal referents and of a homogeneous public, without divisions of class or opinion, which the modern writer faces. Sometimes seeking to restore, sometimes making the cutting of possible identity ties with its audience more decisive. While critical poetry makes the poem object and interlocutor of a literary exercise that is built precisely on the voids and cracks formed by the distance between artist and public, and by the internal divisions of this same public, the poet-chronicler responds in another way to the erasure of such identities.

Chronicle-poetry does not work with cuts, but above all with restorations. Hence the appropriation of the prose language and the colloquialism of the newspaper text. The literary pill is golden and it becomes easier to assimilate by a reader not particularly interested in poetry and by poets who only accept modern poetry as a mirror. And, between poet and public, an extremely efficient mediator: the chronicle. Or, as one reads in “A Bolsa e a Vida”: “Life is this and everything else that the book seeks to reflect in a chronicle state, that is, without tormenting the reader – just here and there reminding him of the human condition. ”.

It is not gratuitous, therefore, the poem “Mallarmé has exhausted the cup of the unknowable” published in 1984. His choice was another. That of the fact, of the trivial, of the chronicle. Not the mallarmaica, always one step away from silence. Or the Baudelairean, in constant duel with the reader. Drummond chooses to broaden and tighten ties with the reader. Hence the literature in a state of chronicle. Hence the conscious use of journalistic devices, of prose cement.

And if, with that, he worked a much less tense relationship than that of Cabral, for example, with the current language and literary expectations of his time, he maintained, at the same time, a demanding poetic craft (see, in this sense, , the study by Hélcio Martins on rhyme in Drummond’s poetry), which resulted, for example, in poems of the quality of “A Máquina do Mundo” and “Paisagem: como se faz”. Which, on the other hand, did not prevent the sometimes excessive memorialist sentimentalization of his last poetry, which, however, always included quality texts and “Father's Scriptures” or the aforementioned “Basting Songs”.

It is, therefore, with the cement of the chronicle, that he seeks to transform the “stone phrases” (to use João Cabral’s expression) of poetry and to remake, with a chronicle-poetry, the broken ties with the public by the “opaque” and “difficult” of modernity. What thematizes, directly, in “Mário de Andrade descends to Hell”: “Twenty years from now: will I be able to wait so long for the price of poetry? / It is urgent to remove from your mouth / the quick, zigzag, hoarse song / made of the impurity of the minute / and of a voice in fever, which strike / this crazy guitar / on the floor, on the floor”. When asking yourself in this poem by The People's Rose through poetry, expressions such as “urgent”, “fast”, “in a fever” proliferate. Expressions that suggest the “heat of the hour” of the newspaper text. “Will I be able to wait so long for the price of poetry?”, he asked in the poem. And the answer works as a quasi-definition of the duplicity of Drummond's own chronicle-poetry: “the quick, zigzagging song” and “made with the impurity of the minute”.

*Flora Sussekind is a professor of Brazilian literature at UniRio and a researcher at Casa de Rui Barbosa. Author, among other books, of Literature and literary life (George Zahar).

Originally published in notebook feuilleton from the newspaper Folha de S. Paul, on 21/08/1987.

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